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The effect of green tea drinking in reducing human cancer risk is unclear, though a protective effect has been reported in numerous animal studies and several epidemiologic investigations. Herein the hypothesis that green tea consumption may reduce the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum and pancreas is examined in a large population-based case-control study conducted in Shanghai, China. Newly diagnosed cancer cases (931 colon, 884 rectum and 451 pancreas) during 1990-1993 among residents 30-74 years of age were included. Controls (n = 1,552) were selected among Shanghai residents and frequency-matched to cases by gender and age. Multivariate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) of each cancer associated with green tea consumption were derived after adjustment for age, income, education and cigarette smoking. Additional adjustment for dietary items and body size was found to have minimal impact. An inverse association with each cancer was observed with increasing amount of green tea consumption, with the strongest trends for rectal and pancreatic cancers. For men, compared with non-regular tea drinkers, ORs among those in the highest tea consumption category (> or = 300 g/month) were 0.82 for colon cancer, 0.72 for rectal cancer and 0.63 for pancreatic cancer, with p values for trend being 0.38, 0.04 and 0.04, respectively. For women, the respective ORs for the highest consumption category (> or = 200 g/month) were 0.67, 0.57 and 0.53, with the respective p values for trend being 0.07, 0.001 and 0.008. Our findings provide further evidence that green tea drinking may lower the risk of colorectal and pancreatic cancers.